In the Elon University lacrosse team’s first four games this season, sophomore attacker Catherine Merritt had just one goal. When Merritt netted a free position attempt in the third quarter Wednesday against the Virginia Tech Hokies to tie the game at 9-9, she secured her third straight hat trick.

Merritt’s third goal of the night came with 5:47 remaining in the third. Elon scored just two more the rest of the game, as the Phoenix lost 17-11. After holding an 8-7 halftime lead, Elon was outscored 10-3 in the second half. 

This was Elon’s second straight game against an Atlantic Coast Conference opponent, as the Phoenix fell to the University of Virginia on March 5. For Merritt, who has scored 11 of her 12 goals on the season in the last three games, the performance against Virginia Tech was another step in the right direction for the Phoenix. 

“I feel like we’re really getting to a point where we are proving ourselves,” Merritt said. “We’re starting to mesh and I think coming into conference play, we should really kill it.”

Merritt has started just one game this season but has provided the Phoenix with a spark on offense, as the sophomore has paced the team in points each of the last two games. Head coach Josh Hexter said he is impressed with Merritt’s talent and is excited for her to continue to develop throughout the season. 

“She’s got a great stick, she’s got great hands, she can get shots off from anywhere and she’s smart,” Hexter said. “The more experience she gets, the better and better she’s going to play. She’s doing a really good job.”

Elon raced out to a 5-2 lead in the first quarter as four different Phoenix players scored goals. Merritt said Elon carried confidence into this game after the team’s performance against nationally ranked Virginia.

“We really trust each other and we’re creating a lot of team chemistry,” Merritt said. “We were hitting all of our passes.”

Virginia Tech turned the tide in the second quarter, scoring five consecutive goals to take a 7-5 lead. Elon responded with a scoring run of its own to close out the first half, as Merritt, sophomore attacker Sammy Fisher and senior midfielder Kaley Ehnow posted three goals in the final 2:52 to give the Phoenix a one-goal halftime advantage. 

“We were really poised throughout the first half and attacked the cage really hard,” Hexter said. 

The Phoenix could not carry the momentum it established late in the first half into the second, as the Hokies outscored Elon 5-1 in the third quarter to take control of the game. Sophomore attacker Cierra Hopson got Elon back within two goals early in the fourth but Virginia Tech responded with a 4-0 run to pull back away.

Despite the loss, Hexter said he was pleased with Elon’s effort. He said the team needs to clean up some turnovers and other unforced errors that hurt the team in the second half against Virginia Tech. 

“I loved the energy we played with, I thought we did really well on both sides of the ball,” Hexter said. “If we keep playing with the same energy and keep attacking the way we are, we’ll be fine.” 

Elon has not beaten a team from the ACC since 2017, when the Phoenix defeated Virginia and Virginia Tech, both of whom were nationally ranked. Merritt said Elon’s games against the ACC opponents will help the team as it prepares for its conference schedule, which begins March 18 against Monmouth University. 

“Knowing that we can play against the top 25 teams in the country and we’re staying in games with them I think is really big for us,” Merritt said. 

Freshman attacker Anna Hackett also scored a hat trick for Elon, finishing with three goals. Ehnow and Hopson each had two. Virginia Tech outshot Elon 28-26 and won the groundball battle 18-14. 

The Phoenix will face East Carolina University in its penultimate non-conference game March 12.